BULLET CLUB: Decade (Year Six)

History of the legendary faction

On May 3 at Dontaku 2023, BULLET CLUB marks a full decade as a force in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. As the group continues into its eleventh year, a look back at the origins and evolutions of one of the most influential factions in wrestling history. 

<– Year Five Year Seven–>

Year five for BULLET CLUB had been the most discordant and dramatic yet, and the fifth anniversary of the group at Dontaku 2018 was an accurate summation. The first of two nights would see  BULLET CLUB in fighting in the main event as Hangman Page and Kenny Omega went to battle; Page would hold nothing back as he targeted a Deadeye onto a table and dropped Omega with a DDT on steel chairs to bust his foe open. It would be Omega on top with the One Winged Angel however, and while the internal strife within the group raged on, BULLET CLUB rolled into the summer with much to look forward to. 

Away from the headline grabbing personal animosity that surrounded Page, Cody, the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, The ‘BULLET CLUB OGs’ were making plays of their own, and Tama Tonga would play recruiter at Dontaku as he brought Taiji Ishimori in as the group’s ‘new Bone Soldier’, and one that could counteract Will Ospreay at the top of the junior heavyweight division at the time. Meanwhile, the Bucks would call their own shots and issue a challenge to EVIL and SANADA for the IWGP Tag team Championships the next month at Dominion, and the second night of Dontaku would end with a match made to close out a legendary trilogy. 

The main event of night two at Dontaku would see Kazuchika Okada achieve the unprecedented, defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi to extend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign to the longest in history at V12. Yet he would admit that out of 12 defences, one rang hollow; his June 2017 60 minute draw with Kenny Omega. Okada would not feel entirely satisfied until he put Omega away, and the challenger elect would have his own request to determine a winner- no time limits and two out of three falls. 

June 9, 2018 may not have seen Tama Tonga’s induction of Taiji Ishimori bear fruit just yet- Ishimori would fall a hair short of Best of the Super Jr. glory weeks earlier to Hiromu Takahashi who took the title away from Will Ospreay that night- but the rest of the Dominion card was a BULLET CLUB success story unseen in recent years. Matt and Nick Jackson would fell Los Ingobernables De Japon’s EVIL and SANADA to capture the IWGP Tag Team Championships, becoming only the second team after No Limit to win both junior and heavyweight tag gold. Meanwhile, the main event saw Kenny Omega’s crowning glory

Fortuitously enough for Omega, had the bout been one fall, Okada would have retained. As a Rainmaker counter attempt saw Omega look for a double leg Nelson, Okada sat down, keeping his challenger pinned for a narrow three in a relatively svelte compared to the prior meetings 28 minutes and 47 seconds. Perhaps the only man in the wrestling business at the time that had even the slimmest hope of ending Okada’s legendary reign, Omega had his back against the wall, but it was a pair of One Winged Angels and a final hook of the legs that brought the Cleaner the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a match that was a fitting closing act to a championship trilogy, and a true epic over a total 64:50.

While the Young Bucks would bury the hatchet with Kenny, celebrating alongside the new champion and Kota Ibushi, Cody was a different story. The world famous Cow Palace would be next on the agenda for G1 Special in San Francisco, and tensions within the Club would come to a head. While the Guerrillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa put up a united front alongside their legendary father King Haku in the opening match of the evening, the main event would see Cody challenge Omega one on one with the IWGP gold on the line

If a physical war that included a superplex off a ladder, and a terrifying spill through tables on the floor would see Cody and Kenny somewhat meeting halfway post match, the angered ‘BULLET CLUB Originals’ of G.o,D had enough of the drama. A post match ‘too sweet’ saw temporary harmony cast asunder as a brutal post match attack ensued. The BCOGs would head into the G1 Climax over the next month intent on bringing BULLET CLUB back to its destructive roots, results be damned; a parade of DQs and countouts saw Bad Luck Fale for one end the tournament on a 3-6 record despite never being pinned or submitted. 

 The Elite crew of Omega, the Young Bucks, and then Cody and Hangman Page would gradually be distanced from BULLET CLUB in the wake of the San Francisco attack. Eventually stalwarts in Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens too would abandon the Elite wing of BULLET CLUB, which in itself would ultimately form All Elite Wrestling. The core of BULLET CLUB sought to move forward, and to do so under a unifying figure. 

In amongst the violent tactics of the BCOGs, Kazuchika Okada’s post title loss mental status, and a collision between Omega and Kota Ibushi en route to an Ibushi and Tanahashi final and the Ace lifting the trophy and flag in the Nippon Budokan, an easily overlooked narrative detail of the G1 was the separation of Kazuchika Okada and Gedo. Gedo had been at the Rainmaker’s side since January of 2012, but as Okada began his quest back to the top of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, it appeared as if he would do so alone. The split was an amicable one- at least until Destruction in Kobe that year. 

As legendary rivalries Okada and Tanahashi faced off with the right to challenge IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega in the Tokyo Dome at stake, the Ace would emerge victorious, but his celebration would be cut short by Jay White. The Switchblade would lay out both Tanahashi and Okada, before Gedo would join in the assault on the Rainmaker. Gedo and White had split from CHAOS, and one month later, Jado would join the two in BULLET CLUB. Despite the Kiwi rejecting Kenny Omega’s invitation into the group that January, White’s connection as a young man to both Prince Devitt and Bad Luck Fale meant that he was more than willing to take the highest of roles within the Club, and to make waves while he was at it. 

The first Wrestle Kingdom of the Switchblade Era was a successful one. Jay White would smoke Okada in a special singles match, while Taiji Ishimori ran KUSHIDA out of Tokyo Dome as he lifted his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The Switchblade was not content with a mere victory over the Rainmaker however, and moved to challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi for IWGP Heavyweight Championship gold in Osaka, the sight of the famed Rainmaker Shock of 2012. 

After over a year of Jay White making promises that inevitably came true, the ensuing ‘Switchblade Shock‘ was anything but shocking. After torturing the base of Tanahashif or the bulk of the match, White caught the Ace’s attempt at a high fly attack with the Bladerunner, lifting IWGP Heavyweight gold at age 26. It was little wonder the success would go to the Switchblade’s head, and his status in the ensuing main event of G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden would be something for him to dine out on for years. 

Yet pride comes before a fall, and MSG would be a mixed bag for the reunited BULLET CLUB. Ishimori’s reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion came to an end thanks to Ryu Lee without him even being pinned, Bandido the third man in the match. Then, despite Tama Tonga asnd Tanga Loa walking out of New York dual IWGP and ROH Tag team Champions, the big belt left NYC around the waist of Okada once more. BULLET CLUB headed into its sixth anniversary in need of a regroup, but what would hit the world in year seven would try even the strongest of bonds.